As sports fans, we always seem to put ourselves in the place of a team’s general manager and think we know the best personnel decisions to make. Whether it be signing free agents, drafting young talent, or building around stars, we would all love to be given the power to build a team the way we want.
In the NBA, it would be easy to choose a mega star like Lebron James or Kevin Durant to build around , but if you had to choose a young star on a bad team as your center piece, who would you choose? Would you choose a big man to dominate down low, or an explosive young guard who can run the floor and score at will? It’s a tougher choice than you might think.
Building bigs – Cousins or Davis?
If your choice is to build around an impact big man, DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings and Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans should be at the top of your list.
Demarcus Cousins has proven that he can dominate the paint as well as (if not better than) anyone in the league. The 6’11, 270lb center is averaging close to 22 points, 12 rebounds and 3 assists per game, while shooting 48% from the floor and 72% from the free-throw line.
When watching Cousins, you can’t help but notice how powerful he is under the basket. He can muscle his way through virtually any defender with a strong spin move, head-fake combination, and find a way to score the basketball. His tremendous strength also allows him to dominate the boards with ease, ranking 5th overall in total rebounds. While his strength allows him to bully his way into the post, his ability to face up and hit a mid-range jump shot makes him that much more difficult to cover.
Anthony Davis on the other hand, dominates the game in a much different way than Cousins. While Cousins relies on his size and strength, Davis uses his superior athleticism and 7’4 wingspan to thrive in the NBA. He averages around 20 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist and 3 blocks per game, while shooting an impressive 52% from the field and 76% from the charity stripe.
What makes Anthony Davis so special is his ridiculous athletic ability. He creates major matchup problems for any big man attempting to guard him, and can run the court in transition with the speed and ball handling ability of a guard. Davis’ 52% field goal percentage is a direct result of his ability to shoot consistently from mid-range, and he specializes in playing above the rim whether it be a lob from a teammate, or a dunk through the lane. The talented young star leads the NBA in blocks by a mile, and unlike Cousins who has had attitude issues in the past, Davis has the type of personality that is marketable. His iconic uni-brow and recent T.V. commercials make him likeable to the NBA fan base, increasing his popularity and drawing positive attention to the franchise.
Kyrie versus Wall – A contrast in guard styles
While choosing either one of those two big men to build around would be a fantastic decision, the shortage of talented two-way big men makes this option far more difficult. A smarter and more pragmatic choice would be to go the route of building around a speedy young guard in the modern NBA game that seems to be moving away from half-court sets and post play. Two stud guards currently on struggling teams would be Kyrie Irving from the Cleveland Cavaliers, and John Wall from the Washington Wizards.
The Washington Wizards have an absolute gem in John Wall. The 23 year old guard out of Kentucky is averaging nearly 20 points, 9 assists and 4 rebounds, while shooting 42% from the field and 32% from 3-point land. While Wall’s shooting ability has been in question during his first few seasons (~40% on field goals), his 3-point shooting has been much improved during the 2013-2014 season. His career high of 32% from deep has come a long way from 7% in the 2011-2012 season, but Wall primarily specializes in getting to the basket and finding the open man. His elite speed and impressive ball handling skills allow him to drive to the basket and score at will. Once he gets down low, he can twist and turn around defenders in mid-air, converting either softly off the glass or dunking with authority.
Wall is undoubtedly a gifted scorer, but his passing ability is often over looked. While some guards can throw great lobs to their big men or hit a shooter in the corner, Wall is especially great at penetrating the defense and finding his teammates who are cutting to the basket. Because he’s so skilled down low, the defense has to collapse to try and deny Wall from scoring, opening up passing lanes to hit his teammates on the run for easy points.
The man whom John Wall is often compared to the most, is Cavs guard Kyrie Irving. The 3rd-year star out of of Duke is averaging close to 21 points, 6 assists and 3 rebounds, while shooting 42% from the field and 36% from deep. Kyrie’s game is somewhat different from Wall’s, primarily due to his focus on scoring.
In terms of size, quickness, and athleticism, Wall has the advantage over Irving. Where Kyrie lacks in size and speed though, he more than makes up for it with elite ball-handling skills and incredible moves around the basket. Irving is constantly weaving in and out of picks, crossing over defenders, and finding a lane to the basket to score with the left hand. A primarily right handed shooter, Irving can go to his left hand around the basket just as well as his right, making him a very difficult cover for the defense.
As a passer, Kyrie typically finds his teammates when he doesn’t have an easy look at the basket. He’ll penetrate the defense, figure out that there’s no way to score, and find a way to get the ball out to a shooter. While Irving shows promise as a passer, it’s clear that he’s looking to score more often than not. Irving averages a few more points per game than Wall because he has 30 more shot attempts and a few more makes on the season, which raises his scoring average slightly. Wall has the edge in both assists and rebounds, but Kyrie shoots 4% higher from 3.
Kyrie has struggled off and on with his scoring this season, raising the question of whether he is truly a franchise player whose worthy of a max contract. During All-Star weekend though, Irving let his play do the talking to silence his critics. His stellar play in the second half completed the comeback victory for the east, and his dynamic play earned him MVP honors.
While the NBA in recent years has been transitioning from an era of dominant big men, to run and gun team offenses built around scoring guards, talented big men still can and will be the center pieces to a title contending team. Fantasy basketball or video games might be the closest thing any of us can get to making player personnel decisions, but if we could ever call the shots for a struggling NBA team from the comfort of our couches, players like Cousins, Davis, Wall and Irving would definitely make our lists – I know they would make mine!
If you had a choice, who would be your ideal franchise cornerstone for your team right now?